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How Do We Turn Mediocrity Into Excellence?

Which elements are most critical to an effective performance appraisal? <i>&#8212;Performance Boost or Bust, services, Dhaka, Bangladesh</i>

March 7, 2013

Dear Performance Boost or Bust:

Performance appraisals, or reviews, provide a valuable opportunity for individuals (historically, an employee and manager) to discuss and document performance relative to agreed-upon goals and standards. It also helps them identify—and commit to—developmental and systemic actions to boost performance going forward. Absent honest, timely feedback about what is working and what isn't, it is next to impossible for people to perform at a high level over time, let alone improve.

At a minimum, an effective performance appraisal process requires the following essential elements

  1. Maturity on the part of the involved individuals and a willingness (based on trust) to have an honest conversation and commit to steps that will yield improvement.
  2. Courage on the part of the managers to broach difficult topics and perhaps acknowledge if they share part of the blame for the employee's performance shortcomings. Managers need to start a conversation with employees, not a monologue.
  3. Judicious focus by the manager the one or two greatest contributions the employee made during the rating period and similarly, one or two areas in which the employee has the greatest opportunity to improve.
  4. There should be an existing set of performance objectives and rating criteria against which to measure performance for the rating period.
  5. It is helpful to have some means of documenting the conversation and agreed- upon action plans. Many organizations fail in this area by creating overly bureaucratic processes.
  6. It is important to be committed, with a capital C, to the process. Many managers and even HR practitioners say they dislike the process and don't see any value in it. In reality, what they find distasteful is the work that goes into doing it properly. Including sitting across from employees and telling them the uncomfortable truths about their performance.

To prevent or overcome this resistance, three additional measures are required.

  1. The biggest driver of engagement is giving employees actionable performance feedback and opportunities to learn and grow. If your managers handle this aspect of the relationship well, they likely will reap the benefit of their employees' discretionary effort and longevity.
  2. Much of the performance management process centers on coaching, so equip your managers with some training or coaching to help them build their skills and confidence.
  3. Lead from the top. Make sure that senior leaders are in fact doing what you expect others to do.

We think you'll find that attention to these elements will yield a process that helps your organization grow and thrive.

SOURCE: Richard Hadden and Bill Catlette, co-authors, Contented Cow Partners, Jacksonville, Florida/Memphis, Tenn.

LEARN MORE: Please read Is Your Performance Review Underperforming?

The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.